News of the Weird August 20 2008

LEAD STORY: Among President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent moves to trim the size of the French government was the layoff of half of the 165 physiotherapists at the taxpayer-funded National Baths of Aix-les-Bains. The pink-slipped masseurs warn that the country’s health will be at risk if people are unable to get the mud wraps, thermal baths and deep-tissue massages covered by national health insurance (along with subsidized transportation and lodging for the visits). In fact, 27 of the physiotherapists immediately went on sick leave for depression. Among Sarkozy’s other targets of government bloat, according to a July Wall Street Journal dispatch: figuring out why France employs 271 diplomats in India but more than 700 in Senegal.

Compelling Explanations: Edward Defreitas, 36, was arrested in Toms River, N.J., in June and accused of causing a three-vehicle collision that injured two men in a car and sent two others (paramedics riding in an ambulance) to the hospital. Defreitas told police that he had been drinking and had decided to drive around until he sobered up: “He said he was afraid to go home and his mother finding alcohol on his breath.”

The Litigious Society: School custodian Anthony Gower-Smith, 73, was awarded the equivalent of about $75,000 in June in London’s High Court after suing Britain’s Hampshire County government when he hurt himself falling off a 6-foot stepladder. Gower-Smith claimed that he had not been properly “trained” on how to use it, despite his longtime experience with such ladders, and despite his signed acknowledgment that he had indeed received training, and despite his having blamed himself just after he fell. (He disavowed the self-blame by saying that, at the time, he was woozy and didn’t remember what he said.)

Shannon Hyman, now 24, filed a lawsuit in July against the Green Iguana Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, Fla., for medical bills and lost wages when she was badly burned four years ago drinking a “flaming shot” of Bacardi 151-proof rum (which normally is consumed without incident, but Hyman had spit out the drink, spreading flames to her head and upper torso). Hyman told the Tampa Tribune: “I’m suing because I should not have been let in because she was under 21 at the time. If I weren’t let in, none of the events would have happened.”

Ironies: In July, the new smoking ban for bars and restaurants in the Netherlands took effect, but it won’t curtail patrons’ right to smoke marijuana in Amsterdam’s coffee shops (where they can buy up to 5 grams a day to smoke on the premises). And, just as the ban became law, the Dutch special-effects company Rain Showtechniek began selling bars a machine (for the equivalent of about $900) that, for nostalgia, replicates the scent of traditional, cigarette-smoked air (but which does not damage health or linger in clothing or hair.)

Not Quite Rehabilitated: A prominent anti-drug motivational speaker, who uses his own sordid life story to inspire troubled kids to turn their lives around, was arrested in May and charged with attempted murder after allegedly shooting at his girlfriend and an old buddy from prison following a long evening of alcohol and methamphetamines. Said the prosecutor in Isanti County, Minn., of the rampage by Russell Simon Jr., 45, “We’re lucky we don’t have a multiple homicide on our hands.”

I Demand My Rights! Murder suspect Broderick Laswell, 19, filed a lawsuit in federal court in April against the Benton County (Ark.) Jail, alleging that he was being “literally” “starved to death” while awaiting trial, and complaining of “blurry” vision and of almost passing out. As evidence of his plight, Laswell pointed out that, in eight months behind bars, his weight had dropped from 413 pounds to 308.

It’s Good to Be a British Prisoner (continued): In June, Abu Qatada, a cleric described as one of Europe’s most dangerous terror proselytizers, was released from jail, where he has been awaiting deportation (for three years) to Jordan, and confined to his home in London. British courts refuse to deport him because, when Jordan tries him on serious terrorism charges, it might possibly use evidence obtained by torture of Abu Qatada’s colleagues. Thus, he will remain in Britain, under heavy guard (estimated to cost the equivalent of $1 million a year), in his tax-abated home with his wife and five children, who receive the equivalent of about $90,000 a year in welfare benefits. (Abu Qatada himself receives the equivalent of $16,000 a year from the government, for a previous back injury.)

People With Issues: At the time that Alan Patton, 56, of Columbus, Ohio, made News of the Weird in 2006, he had already been consuming boys’ urine for 40 years, he said, and a 2007 jail sentence has had no apparent deterrent effect. He was arrested in June 2008 (and twice since then), accused of turning off the water in a recreation center restroom and placing plastic wrap inside the bowl to catch the nectar that, he says, enables him to “become part of their youth.” While no Ohio law prohibits collecting or drinking others’ urine, Patton violates his almost-perpetual probation by visiting any public restroom.

Least Competent Criminals: In the course of burglarizing Yaakov Kanelsky’s apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., in July, Victor Marin, 20, accidentally left his wallet (containing ID, credit cards and photos) on the bed. After Kanelsky arrived home and called 911, Marin returned and knocked on the front door. From the hallway, he begged for his billfold back and began shoving Kanelsky’s money under the door, hoping to persuade him to trade. Unfortunately for Marin, $92 of his $217 cash haul was in $1 bills, and the crack under the door was tiny. Marin was still busy stuffing money in by the time police arrived.

© 2008 CHUCK SHEPHERD